Do you know what to do if you encounter a snake on a trail run?
Yes, they’re out there, but it’s fairly uncommon to come across a snake while on a trail run – and even less common to have a problem with one if you do. But, if you’re wondering how to best handle an encounter with a slithery friend, read on.
Ecologist Alan Williams provides this sage advice:
Q: Most people want to know, first and foremost, what they should do if they encounter a snake on a trail.
If you spot a snake on the trail, the most vital thing to do (obviously) is give it a wide berth. Let it be. Don’t provoke it. It’ll likely try to get away from you as quickly as possible.
If you’re in a busy place where you’re trying to help the snake from getting run over, use something really long to shoo it off the trail, such as a long stick. Don’t pick it up, even if you think it’s not poisonous. They will try to get away. Don’t corner them.
Snakes likely try to defend themselves if they’re cornered or harassed.
Q: Where do snakes tend to hang out?
Snakes are cold-blooded and tend to come out when it’s warm and sun themselves. They like the sunny side of rocky areas, cliff edge and a rock wall.
Snakes also tend to be near water, especially if it’s an otherwise dry environment. If you’re in an area near a spring or a seep in an otherwise dry area, keep an extra eye out.
For people who are staying on well-groomed trails, keep your eye ahead for snakes on the trail. If there’s fallen stumps, rocks or other obstacles, there’s a chance that a snake might be basking in the sun on the other side. Take an extra big step over the log – and step carefully!
If you’re really off-trail and rock-hopping, the odds go up because there are more cracks and crevices, and there aren’t other people around flushing them out.
Remain consistently aware!
Q: Are there times of the day that snakes are more likely to be seen on a trail?
As previously mentioned, snakes tend to come out when it’s warm.
They’re resting during the day, often sunning themselves, but likely on the edge of a sunny patch in the morning because the mid-day, direct sunlight can be too much. If you’re on a cool morning run and come across a sunny patch, that increases your chances of encountering one.
Q: Are there times of the year that they’re more likely to be seen?
There are times when the frequency of sightings goes up – often in spring. Snakes hibernate, so in the spring after hibernating together, they disperse into territories for the breeding season.
In autumn, they retreat to hibernate. They’re on the go, and they may be less familiar with the territory so they may be less able to hide themselves.
Q: In the rare occurrence that someone should get bitten, what should they do?
Most treatment for snakebites is pretty much the same, no matter the type of snake.
The old wives’ tales of ‘cutting and sucking’ is out the door, as is applying a tourniquet or pressure for most snakes. The only thing you’re supposed to do is get to a hospital for evaluation.
There’s very little that you can actually do in the field, except follow these steps:
1) Remain calm: even if a snake is venomous, they don’t inflict a lot of venom in their bites; they’re just being defensive, not trying to kill you.
2) Try to identify the snake as clearly as you can.
3) Move as little as possible, and call emergency rescue services for evacuation. Out of cell phone reception? Send your running partner to hunt for signal.
4) You should always run on trails with a phone and/or a running partner, no matter how leisurely the run. If you find yourself without either, move yourself gingerly: the less movement, the better. If it’s your leg, try to hop out. If it’s your hand, wrist, or arm, hold it as still as you can, and get help as quickly as you can.
5) Get to a hospital as soon as possible for treatment with anti-venom.
From a trail runner’s perspective, just have a little extra vigilance on rocky, sunny areas, logs across the trail, pockets of leaves – but the chances of having any problems with a snake are very slim.
Like any wild animal, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.
Mountain Search & Rescue Numbers*
Put the relevant numbers into your phone, immediately!
Eastern Province – 10177, convenor: 082 990 7626 Gauteng – 074 125 1385, 074 163 3952, 011 315-0203 KwaZulu-Natal – 0800 005 133 Western Cape – 10177, 021 937 0300 Hottentots Holland – Somerset West – 10177, 021 937 0300 South Cape (Plettenberg Bay/Knysna/George) – 10177
*As per the Mountain Club Of South Africa